Photo of a chameleon changing colors

So you think you can Change (manage)?

Author: Kamil Ahmed

Workplaces everywhere look different. From visible precautions at grocery stores, to socially distanced construction crews and remote work alternatives for office environments; the safety & well-being of both employees and patrons in all work settings has become a top priority. The word of the year seemingly is “change”. According to human capital research firm i4cp, 87% of large organizations report that the pace of change is accelerating and business is becoming increasingly unpredictable. 

We are witnessing change in the complex and dynamic subject that are workplaces. The question at hand does not have to do with whether or not change is coming; but whether or not we are prepared for it. 

We sat down (virtually) with Krista Schaber-Chan, co-founder and managing partner at Harbinger – a change management and learning consulting firm that strives to facilitate workplace capacity to foresee and plan for change. She set the tone for the conversation. “If you want to know the truth about something, you’ll come to me” captures Krista’s personal and professional navigation style. 

Although Harbinger upheld a flexible workplace long before 2020, they still felt the impact of rapid change. When asked how she and her team have adapted, Krista admits that it was strange at first but manageable because her team is “change enabled and change resilient”. 

“In my mind, you manage things – you enable people. Calling what we do ‘change management’ made sense 20 years ago because we really were just managing activities and tasks. Now, change management is still very important because we still have to manage tasks and activities but that’s no longer the focus. The focus is people”.  

An emphasis on people and their primary role in any organization can be felt through a Harbinger saying, “Organization’s don’t change, people change”. To Krista and her managing partner Greg, any type of change begins with the people affected by said change. Some may call this attaining buy-in, others may call it employee consultation. To our interviewee, it’s called a journey. “As organizations and leaders, we need to engage with individual contributors who are leaders without title because they are the ones that will rally the team and build that change-enabled environment because your peers actually look to you”. We see this in action when it comes to workplace learning. According to a study conducted by Degreed, more workers first turn to their peers (55%) over other avenues such as online resources and their HR/L&D departments. 

Krista defined change resilience as being able to accept the change that is coming at you. This does not mean dismissing pain when it is felt – it means embracing circumstance to prevent suffering. “Whether you’re being asked to use a new AP system where you would rather use your spreadsheet or it’s having to wear a mask in public”. In speaking to her approach to change, Krista fondly cited a recent learning experience working with a client who had a difficult time giving up their desk. “As a consultant who has never had a formal desk, it blew my mind. I had to take a step back and empathize with what it was they felt they were losing. They literally spend 8-10 hours of everyday at this desk – this desk holds just as much significance as their bed or television. It’s a big thing to give up. You can choose to fight against it forever and let it affect you or you could accept that you don’t like it and shift to considering what your choices are. More often than not, there’s usually more than one option besides suffering”. 

Harbinger offers a suite of solutions specific to remote workplace transformation. I asked Krista if she could speak to some of the standout challenges faced by employers and/or employees that she and her team have facilitated transformation for. She gladly did and coupled them with some starting solutions for people leaders and managers to explore. 

1. Technology and connectivity 

While organizations have generally done well to enable remote work through technology and tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, unfortunately many people are struggling to use the tools effectively due to a lack of training provided. 

There is also inequity in levels of internet service between individuals because: people live in more remote areas where services are not as good as in the urban areas.  

Where to start: 

  1. Leverage training offered by folks like Harbinger.
  2. Utilize User-Generated Content (UGC) – Most organizations have early adopters who would be more than happy to create a video that could be made available for all their peers to consume. This is a cheap and cheerful solution especially if channels for employee communication exist. Unfortunately, this option is rarely utilized due to unreasonable fear – fear that the content cannot be moderated, or quality checked etc. But the reality is often the person creating UGC knows they need to make it good, so they look good. 

2.  An expectation of being on camera for meetings, always.

People get tired in in-person meetings. Attending back-to-back-to-back video meetings is worse. With in-person meetings, you often have to move to a different meeting room, so you are at least getting a bit of a break and exercise. When working remotely (usually this means at home), there are various reasons why a person would never get up and walk around or just take a break. This is exhausting and expecting people to always be on camera and chipper is unreasonable. 

Where to start: 

  1. Team agreement to make formal attire required for specific meetings while casual clothes are welcome otherwise. 
  2. Team agreement to never book back-to-back meetings, maintaining 15-minute breaks between meetings. 
  3. Team agreement to inform participants of a meeting prior to it if an individual will not be using video so that others are not waiting and are understanding. 

3. People managers and leaders are struggling with leading people they can’t see.

This one is huge because data shows that people are actually more productive when working remotely, yet managers are struggling with managing output and deliverables instead of attendance or presence. 

Where to start:

  1. Trust is fundamental and requires long-term commitment.
  2. If the issue is around being unable to pivot leadership/management styles, various solutions could be implemented:
    1. Scheduling regular one-to-one meetings.
    2. Upholding an “open call time” policy in which leaders are dedicated and available for anyone on their team to reach out via phone or chat. 
    3. Leaders/managers should have a conversation with their whole team and as individuals to work out together how they can communicate & collaborate. 

A thread that ties the work of Harbinger and Lunaria together is people and that became incredibly visible through this conversation. People and their lived experiences must be posited at the forefront of any consideration for change. Including employees throughout the “change journey” promises better adoption, facilitation and sustainability in addition to the development of individual and collective capacity and resilience. As Krista says, “change is all around us and constant”.

Looking to get change enabled? Check out Harbinger’s services.

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